A former Bloomington man exonerated of murder charges is entitled to a jury trial on his claims that three retired Normal police officers played a significant role in his wrongful conviction, according to arguments by his lawyers Wednesday to the Fourth District Appellate Court.
Named in the lawsuit filed in 2014 by Alan Beaman are the Town of Normal and former officers Tim Freesmeyer, Dave Warner and Frank Zayas. Beaman was convicted of murder in the 1993 strangulation death of his former girlfriend Jennifer Lockmiller. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the conviction in 2008 after he had served about 13 years of a 50-year sentence. The following year, the state dismissed murder charges against Beaman.
Beaman’s lawsuit stalled in June 2016 after a judge rejected arguments from his lawyers that the former officers heavily influenced the prosecutor’s decision to file murder charges against Beaman in the death of the 21-year-old Illinois State University student. Beaman has alleged malicious prosecution, emotional distress and civil conspiracy in the lawsuit.
Beaman’s lawyer, David Shapiro, spent most of the 20 minutes allotted for his arguments responding to questions from Justice Robert Steigmann, who focused his attention on the issue of probable cause. If former McLean County prosecutors, now retired judges James Souk and Charles Reynard, had sufficient probable cause to charge Beaman with murder, would not the question of misconduct by police be moot, Steigmann asked Shapiro?
The state lacked probable cause to charge Beaman with killing his former girlfriend, Shapiro countered. Authorities were aware of another suspect who had a background of drug use and domestic violence, said Beaman’s lawyer. The man, who also had been romantically involved with the victim, failed to complete a polygraph test, a fact police did not disclose to prosecutors, Shapiro reminded the three-member court.
The arguments Wednesday represented Beaman’s fourth trip the appellate court and his fourth attempt to persuade the court to rule in his favor.
The Illinois Supreme Court initially declined to consider an appeal but later, in a rare reversal, heard Beaman’s appeal. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Fourth District, with instructions to the court to review whether the detectives’ direct involvement in the case was a proximate cause of charges being filed against Beaman.
In his arguments, defense lawyer Thomas DiCianni asked the court to reject Beaman’s claim that police conducted a “bad faith investigation.”
“They are really trying to transform malicious prosecution in this state in a way the Supreme Court did not endorse in its decision,” said DiCianni.
Souk was aware of all the information from the police investigation into Lockmiller’s death, said DiCianni. It’s unlikely the disclosure of the other suspect’s incomplete polygraph would have changed Souk’s mind about filing charges against Beaman, said the defense lawyer.
DiCianni asked the panel which included Justices James Knecht and Thomas Harris to stand by its initial ruling in support of the lower court decision dismissing the lawsuit.
“Our position is you got it right the first time,” he said.
Shapiro sought a different result from the upcoming ruling.
“Alan Beaman has been fighting for a fair trial his whole life and this court should give him one,” said Shapiro.
The losing side in the appeal will have the option of asking the Illinois Supreme Court to review the Fourth District decision.
Beaman lives in Rockford with his wife and two daughters.
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